No matter what or how well you write already, you could stand to be a little better. And there’s no place to go for advice other than the pros. All the books in this list are held in high regard by writers of all kinds — from screenwriters to novelists to technical writers. And no matter what you write (or aspire to write), you will definitely pick up some useful lessons from these books. They come in all flavors, from those that treat writing as art that’s sourced from the heart to those that dismiss that view completely, so you’re bound to find something to your taste.
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting — Syd Field
Syd Field’s “Screenplay” was originally published in 1979, and has since been updated with the latest version coming out in 2005. After existing for almost 40 years, this book has become the industry standard for screenwriters and studio executives to learn about what goes into a screenplay.
If you’re not a screenwriter, you can still pick up lots of knowledge on the general rules of storytelling, how to convey strong image using language, and the chapter on collaborating will prove very useful for writers working in tandem.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces — Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell is a myth theorist who spent his writing career talking about universalities in fictional narratives. “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” is a widely read and cited work of comparative mythology for charting the Hero’s Journey — the path of every archetypal hero that can be applied to all myths. These rules apply to protagonists in all pieces of narrative fiction.
This book might be too academic for some palates, but reading it will benefit any writer of fiction. Even if you’re not a fiction writer, just a consumer, this book is still a great — and necessary — read.
On Writing — Stephen King
In this book, Stephen King will tell you how to be a writer — and show it, too.
It’s part personal narrative, part how-to from one of the most prolific writers of our age. The advice section is geared towards would-be novelists, however, lots of the tools discussed there will be relevant to all types of writers. It discusses writing in a trademark no-nonsense Stephen King way.
In Part 2 of this book (the how-to part), you’ll learn about characters, dialogue, what must be accomplished in the first draft and what the second draft must fix. And much, much more.
Story Engineering — Larry Brooks
As suggested by the name, this is another book that deals with writing-the-craft, not writing-the-art. Story Engineering describes the six core competencies of storytelling: concept, character, theme, structure, execution, and writing voice. In these six parts, there is all the writing skill you need. The book presents them as inseparable parts of each other, sort of functioning like a recipe.
What this book doesn’t do is give the reader a one-size-fits-all type of writing formula. It also doesn’t pretend to hand you any type of indisputable rule — it’s very much what you make of it.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles — Steven Pressfield
This book is the guide to the inner workings of a writer. If you’re no stranger to self-doubt and writer’s block, this book is for you. Not only will it give you a perfect description of what you’re dealing with — called Resistance — and also give you the tools necessary to win the creative war against yourself.
It’s like a self-help book specifically for dealing with the self-sabotaging force inside of every writer.
Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You — Ray Bradbury
In this collection of essays, Ray Bradbury shares his unique view on writing. If the previously featured books take the position on writing as a craft, this book is for those obsessed with the art of writing, as the title would suggest. Bradbury’s own infatuation with writing translates into this book very well, and it is a must-read for those who think a writer should be in love with their work, not just obsessive about it.
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